Archive for guitars

55. ‘Entertain’ by Sleater-Kinney (2005)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 11, 2010 by G.K. Reid

I miss Sleater-Kinney.  It’s a neat trick to be consistently tearing the world a new one and spitting on human weakness in disgust, yet make it sound so irresistible.  Obviously, I’m on board with them a lot of the time, but I can also often be guilty of what they’re ferociously denouncing.  Such is the case with ‘Entertain’; me being something of an out-and-proud sucker for crap reality TV, I can hardly pretend to not be part of the problem that Carrie and Corin are howling about here.

So what saves Sleater-Kinney from sounding like a bunch of self-righteous, no-fun grouches (aside from the fact that they’re completely on the money?)  Well, for starters, there’s no sanctimony here – it’s genuine anger; the band exist not to lecture, but to liberate themselves.  Despite their targets here being pretty damn easy ones, lyrically the band avoids both cliché and cheap leering.  Mostly though, it’s because their disapproval is so well-mounted, with those explosively intertwining, whip-cracking vocals galvanised by some unruly guitarwork and the reliable vehemence of Janet Weiss’  drums.

In short: COME BACK, GIRLS. WE NEED YOU.

Bonus points: Despite their protestations, I still reckon they’d enjoy a good Coach Trip marathon now and again.

56. ‘Stuck Between Stations’ by The Hold Steady (2007)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2010 by G.K. Reid

Beaker from The Muppets: The Rock Star Years

Eschewing any pretensions, The Hold Steady are often condescendingly dismissed as a ‘pub band’, peddling blue-collar preoccupations in a doggedly outmoded style.  In actuality, the output of this band is consummately realised, passionately delivered, and as fully engaged with the hits and misses of life as you could ever ask for.

The Springsteen influence is worn on the sleeve, as the band repeatedly plough the same territory, offering up a portrait of America populated by the down and disillusioned, a retinue of characters frustrated by their limits yet irrevocably yoked by the promise of something more, something meaningful.  If you’re looking for a definitive Hold Steady song, then you may as well take ‘Stuck Between Stations’, although so many volunteer themselves.

Perhaps part of what makes ‘Stuck Between Stations’ resonate in particular is in how it locates itself within the legacies of both Jack Kerouac and John Berryman.  It can be tough for a rock band to pull off literary allusions without seeming self-aggrandising or mismanaging the allusion horribly. The Hold Steady, however, are fully invested in the worldviews of Springsteen, Kerouac and Berryman and, consequently, their music not only grows from, it adds to the richness of each.  To hell with innovation; The Hold Steady are pursuing something much purer than that.

Bonus points: Craig Finn has very expressive hands.

58. ‘The Best of Jill Hives’ by Guided By Voices (2003)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 17, 2010 by G.K. Reid

G.B.V. grumpily showcase the secret to their success: the guitar.

Pop music is, let’s face it, a load of old nonsense.  Grown men sob in their spoilt underwear about girls they’ve never actually met. A girl in school uniform insists that she is being killed by her loneliness. Another girl shakes her hips in delirious exultation, pleased for some reason that her tits are not in the least mountainous. It’s a hotpants explosion. I am the walrus, you are the eggman. He got monkey finger, he shoot Coca Cola. A whop bop a lu-bop, a whop bam boo.  What’s cooler than being cool?  Ice cold, obviously.

But, if pop music is ridiculous, it’s because we are ridiculous.  For months, we can be damning the baffling resurgence of ersatz swing music, and then one day we find ourselves oddly affected by a Michael Buble song.  A pop song can peddle a false promise of worldwide unification, built upon entreaties to take a holiday or dance in the street or some such, and we’ll love it and buy it and, most importantly, for three minutes, we’ll believe it. 

The best proponents of pop never lose sight of the inherent nonsense, both of their artform and of mankind. And it’s particularly important for them not to if they happen to wield a guitar, that instrument which for so many of the record-buying public seems to denote a depth of seriousness or authority that snake-hipped Columbians or genderbenders with lobsters on their heads could only dream of. (Pah!)

Which brings me (eventually) round to ‘The Best of Jill Hives’, for me a great example of how a pop song can infiltrate your life on a near-daily basis for years and you can not even realise that you’ve no idea what it’s about, or if it’s “about” anything at all.  All you do know in these cases – and this is what’s so good about Robert Pollard’s approach to songwriting – is that they contain turns of phrase that have come to mean something to you. That ‘approach’ of Pollard’s that I mention seems to be very much one of ‘throw it against a wall and see what sticks’.  Sensible – because, in good pop music, something always sticks;  snatches of profundity amid the silly and the abstruse.

Apparently, this is how the song came into being:

‘ Jill Hives is not a real person. I was having my muffler fixed on my car and I was sitting in the waiting room with some people watching television so I played this game I play sometimes when I can’t quite hear what people are saying, I’ll start writing what I think they’re saying. There was a soap opera on the TV called The Best of Our Lives and I must have thought they were saying the Best of Jill Hives’.

See – nonsense. Big, glorious, life-affirming nonsense.

Bonus points: Given that the song plays out like an abstract character study, in my head Jill Hives is played by Shelley Duvall in a film directed by Robert Altman.